By Elaine Lies and Kantaro Komiya
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida plans to sack internal affairs minister Minoru Terada, media reported on Sunday, the third cabinet member to leave in less than a month in a severe blow for Kishida’s support.
Kishida’s approval ratings have sunk after the July assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revealed deep and longstanding ties between ruling Liberal Democratic Party politicians and the Unification Church, a group some critics call a cult.
Terada’s departure could further weaken the embattled premier, whose support ratings have remained below 30% in several recent opinion polls, a level that may make it difficult for him to carry out his political agenda.
Kishida decided on Saturday to oust Terada, given increasing pressure within his party to lessen the impact on the LDP in parliamentary budget debate starting this week, the Yomiuri daily said.
No one was immediately available on Sunday at the prime minister’s office for comment on the reports.
Terada, under fire for several funding scandals, has acknowledged that one of his support groups had submitted funding documentation ostensibly signed by a dead person. Calls have risen for his departure ahead of the budget discussions.
Kishida told a news conference in Bangkok on Saturday he would make a decision on Terada as needed, adding “cabinet ministers must fulfil their obligations to explain”.
The premier spent Sunday afternoon meeting with advisers, media reported.
After leading the LDP to an election victory days after Abe was gunned down on the campaign trail, Kishida had been widely expected to enjoy a “golden three years” with no national elections required until 2025.
Abe’s suspected killer said his mother was bankrupted by the Unification Church and blamed Abe for promoting it. The LDP has acknowledged many lawmakers have ties to the church but that there is no organisational link to the party.
A vast majority of voters also disapproved of Kishida’s decision to hold a state funeral for Abe, which took place at the end of September.
Economic revitalisation minister Daishiro Yamagiwa resigned on Oct. 24 due to his ties to the religious group, and Kishida came under fire for what voters saw as his delayed and clumsy handling of the situation.
Further damage came from the resignation of justice minister Yasuhiro Hanashi in mid-November for comments seen as making light of his work responsibilities, specifically signing off on executions.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Kantaro Komiya; Editing by Chris Reese and William Mallard)
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